Editorial Policy

How to Afford an Expensive Hobby

Kristin McGrath

April 26, 2013

Frugality often takes center stage on this site, and we’ve provided an array of articles that encourage readers — especially those with debt — to constantly carve the excess from their budgets.

But what if you have an expensive hobby — something you enjoy that’s worth spending extra on? Running marathons, riding horses and tinkering with old cars cost money —  and unless you’re wealthy, paying for your passion will often involve making room not only in your life, but in your budget.

That’s what I’ve been doing lately. After my doctor lectured me (again) on my sedentary lifestyle (I edit for a living and make excuses to avoid the gym in my spare time), I decided to train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I attended one free introductory session, and I was sold. It’s difficult and exhausting, but it held my interest in a way that no other physical activity has.

But training does not come cheap. I want to train at least twice a week for 12 months, which will cost me roughly $1,300 over the next year.

Cramming this into my budget is extra challenging because my financial adviser has me on an aggressive saving regimen. The idea is to take advantage of these last several years before I have a house and the need for a new car, and save like crazy while I still can. I’ve seen the savings progress I’ve made, and I don’t want to compromise that.

So, last weekend I took a good look at my latest bank statements with the intention to make $1,300 worth of room over the next year for my new hobby. Three of my biggest non-essential expenses were the easiest to cut:

My storage unit
I was paying $35 a month to store stuff, mostly books, that I haven’t looked at in two years. So I cleaned out the storage unit, donated a bunch of stuff from around my apartment to make room for it and told the storage company we were through. That will save me $420 this year. Plus I earned $57 selling the books at Half Price Books.

A few months ago, my boyfriend and I decided to get cable to take advantage of a really good promotion. We each now pay $30 a month. We have agreed to cut the cord as soon as the show we are hooked on ends its season in May. This move will save me $330 over the next year.

Visits home
My parents live a plane ride away, and I always visit during the summer for our family reunion. Tickets to where they live usually cost around $300. I have lots of rewards points for my airline of choice sitting around (more than enough for a round trip). But because I usually fly home on weekends during the summer, redeeming them is nearly impossible. So I booked my ticket this week (instead of waiting until the last minute) and opted for an early morning flight on a convoluted route to get a rewards seat — and saved $307 dollars.

With three painless cuts, I’m saving just over $1,000. Not bad, but still not enough. So I’m also limiting myself to one meal out at a restaurant per week (I’ve been eating out about three times a week over the past three months, according to my bank statements). I’ve now got enough frozen meat, vegetables and brown rice stocked up to last me months, and my training will probably go better if I’m eating healthier, anyway.

Looking to take up an expensive hobby? Here’s some advice from the blogosphere:

Try before buying:  If you’re interested in something that requires pricey equipment, become an expert before opening your wallet, Eyes on the Dollar recommends. If possible, rent equipment (or buy used equipment) to find out what works best for you before buying new stuff.

If you’re passionate about something, make it happen: In a guest blog on Man Vs. Debt, the site’s community manager, Jan Otto, estimates she’s spent $4,000 on tae kwon do over the years. If your income doesn’t stretch quite far enough, Otto recommends a side hustle like selling unneeded items online, or offering your services as a Web designer or tutor.

Try to find budget-friendly alternatives: You don’t need to sacrifice the activities you enjoy if you can find more cost-effective ways of doing them, according to Enemy of Debt. Share equipment with a friend and split the cost. Or scour eBay or yard sales for less-expensive supplies.

Say “no” if you can’t afford it: If you have debt, you can’t afford a pricey hobby, according to Aryn of the blog Sound Money Matters, whose expensive pastime of choice is stained glass crafting. Even when you’re out of debt, she recommends brown-bagging your lunch, canceling the cable (you won’t have time for it if you’re truly concentrating on your hobby) and pooling supplies with friends to make room in your budget.

Tone it down: Find out what you like most about your hobby and stick to that. For example, according to Trent from The Simple Dollar, you might cut out the competitive aspect. He blogs about shelling out a lot of money on competitions for the card game Magic: The Gathering. Once he stopped competing and started playing only socially, it was no longer necessary to spend money on new cards and accommodations for competitions.

Even if I have to divert a couple hundred dollars from my savings in the end, I think it will be worth it. I’ll be doing something I enjoy that will motivate me to become more physically — and financially — fit.